Calls for 'genuine' cross-party pact as Malaysia’s new PM starts work

Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob waves from a vehicle as he leaves the National Palace after the swearing in ceremony in Kuala Lumpur on Aug 21, 2021.
Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob waves from a vehicle as he leaves the National Palace after the swearing in ceremony in Kuala Lumpur on Aug 21, 2021.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's opposition has given a cautious welcome to a call by newly installed Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob for it to be included in the fight against Covid-19, but said the offer must be genuine and not simply lip service.

The opposition DAP, Malaysia’s largest political party in terms of total lawmakers, said it was open to Datuk Seri Ismail’s offer for the opposition to be part of the country's National Recovery Council and special committee for dealing with the pandemic.

“To save lives and livelihoods, DAP is willing to consider the offer for the leadership of the opposition to be part of the National Recovery Council and the Special Committee on Covid-19 provided it is not token representation and a mere rubber-stamp for the government's views,” party secretary-general Lim Guan Eng wrote on Facebook on Sunday (Aug 23).

In his maiden speech as premier, Mr Ismail noted that Malaysia had already seen two changes of government since the May 2018 general election.

He said such rapid changes of government were harmful to the country, and called for an end to power grabs.

Sabah party United Progressive Kinabalu Organisation said it has already filed a parliamentary motion for the setting up of a federal-state council for public health and economy as part of efforts to bolster the fight against Covid-19.

"This proposal was made with awareness and considering the people's suffering from Covid-19 who lost their loved ones and source of income, as well as the current education system which had made it difficult to continue learning and teaching," party president Wilfred Madius Tangau said during a news conference.

The council should include government ministers, opposition MPs, state chief ministers, and professionals and experts from the economic, medical and education sectors as well as the top leadership of the civil service, the military and the police, he said. 

"The council should meet weekly before the Cabinet meeting to receive reports and take action on matters such as unemployment, business closures, infections, hospitalisations and deaths because of Covid-19, vaccination performance of the people, implementation of SOPs, school conditions and performance of key sectors of the economy," he added.

The Malaysia-China Chamber of Commerce (MCCC) and the Malaysian Muslim Chamber of Commerce (DPIM) also called for a federal-state council, pointing out that the country’s response towards Covid-19 had been hampered by structural weaknesses caused by narrow policy-making by ministers and civil servants.

“First, with a narrow political base, needs and concerns are not adequately taken into account, resulting in policy blind spots, incoordination and flip-flops,” they said in a joint statement.

“Second, without opposition parties sharing the political responsibility, the government failed to impose necessary but unpopular policies or enforce them consistently,” added the statement.

“Without political stability and better governance, Malaysia will lag behind neighbouring countries in the post-Covid 19 recovery, which may push back our economic strength by one generation.”

Opposition MP Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, who heads his own party called Muda, urged Mr Ismail to implement the lowering of the voting age to 18, under a law popularly known as Undi 18 which was passed by Parliament in 2019.

“You were with us, sir, on #UNDI18 when you were leader of the opposition. UNDI18 should have been implemented two months ago but Perikatan Nasional broke their promise. This is a historic bipartisan agreement. Let’s do this together,” the former youth and sports minister tweeted on Sunday.

Under Undi 18, the total number of voters, including new young voters and previously unregistered voters, is expected to increase from 14.9 million in 2018 to 22.7 million by 2023.

It was meant to have been implemented in July this year but the Election Commission in March announced that its implementation and automatic voter registration can only be done after Sept 1, 2022.

Meanwhile, the Sarawak United Peoples' Party suggested that a deputy prime minister II post be created under the new government, and offered MP Fadillah Yusof, who is parliamentary chief whip of the Sarawak-based GPS coalition, for the position.

The appointment would be an open, sincere and genuine acknowledgement of the immense contributions from Sarawak and Sabah, SUPP secretary general Sebastien Ting in a statement on Sunday (Aug 22).

“Both Sarawak and Sabah have contributed much to nation-building all these years, since 1963.”